Setting the scene: The Royals, Houston, and the 2017 season
Here's the deal. I wasn't even supposed to be at the best game I've ever attended. My birthday is June 9 (might want to mark that down, since I assume you'll be wanting to send presents), and what I wanted in 2017 was to attend a game with my family. Not just my wife and kids, either. I wanted my cousin and my dad to come as well. It was going to be a big thing.
Yet, despite the fact that it was my birthday, I was somehow put in charge of buying the tickets. Not sure how that happened, but it did, and maybe it was meant to be because our plan was to watch the Royals play the Astros on Thursday, June 8. But I clicked the wrong button and ordered six tickets for Tuesday, June 6, instead. And this is not the only time I've done something like this. If you take nothing else away from this article, let it be that I should not be put in charge of purchasing tickets if we ever attend a game together.
Fortunately, no one in my party had a conflict with the new date, and by the end of the night, they'd all be thanking me for screwing up. Had we gone June 8, we would have seen Lance McCullers Jr. shut down the Royals for a fairly ho-hum 6-1 Astros win. Instead, we got to watch a game none of us would ever forget.
Long before news of Houston's sign-stealing scandal broke, the Astros were an up-and-coming powerhouse loaded with young talent. After breaking through in 2015, and losing to the Royals in a classic ALDS, Houston took a step back in 2016 before truly arriving in 2017. Led by Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer (there was no player in the last decade I longed to see in a Kansas City uniform more than Springer, even though I knew it would never happen), the Astros were already running away with the AL West in early June and arrived in KC with a 13-game lead.
Of course, Houston won its first World Series that season, and for at least a part of the year it looked like a playoff rematch with the Royals was possible. The core of Kansas City's World Series teams (Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas) was on its farewell tour, and the season turned out to be a bit of a rollercoaster ride.
Less than two months later, the Royals were in possession of an AL Wild Card spot at the trade deadline, but the moves General Manager Dayton Moore made blew up in his face. Melky Cabrera could not recapture the form he showed for KC in 2011, and the acquisition of pitchers from the Padres was a disaster.
The Royals finished 2017 with an 80-82 record, five games behind the Minnesota Twins for the second Wild Card spot, and 22 games behind a Cleveland team that won 102 games, including a ridiculous 22-game winning streak. Kansas City happened to be hot at the same time but failed to gain any ground because Cleveland was playing so well.
The 2017 season qualifies as the last good Royals campaign. Sure, it fell short of the playoff euphoria of 2014-15, but compared to the three 100-loss seasons and general malaise that followed, 2017 still feels like part of a golden era. Heading into that June 6 game against Houston, however, the Royals had yet to find their groove. They were 25-32 and bringing up the rear of the AL Central, but a case could be made that this was the night the Royals turned it around and made 2017 interesting.